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What is love?
Allow yourself to sit with this question for a moment.
What comes up for you?
The first time you fell in love? Tender moments with family around the holidays? Your most recent heartbreak?
For many of us, love is a complicated thing, full of both pain and pleasure. We associate love with feelings of being swept away to paradise. But eventually, that same love crashes us on the rocky shores of a desert island.
Our culture teaches us to approach love as something that magically happens to us against our will. Think of phrases like “falling in love” or “madly in love.”
When love becomes hard work, and it always does, it stops feeling like love. And so, we fall out of love as quickly as we fell into it.
Whether it be romance, friendship, or parental love, there comes a time when we realize that loving someone requires much more work than we previously thought.
So we vow never to be so vulnerable again and wall ourselves off from life-giving relationships. Instead of working on our relationships, we become workaholics to distract ourselves from the pain of loving.
There’s only one problem. We were made for love.
Learning to love in a spiritually and emotionally mature way is the work of our lives. In the end, nothing else matters.
Learning to love well requires us to radically change our definition and expectations of love.
What is love?
Here are the top three definitions the online Merriam-Webster dictionary give for love:
1. A strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties. 2. An attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers. 3. Affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests.
The common element in all these? They’re all conditional.
They’re based on affection and attraction.
What happens when these conditions are not met? What happens when affection or attraction becomes work to produce?
The “love” often whithers and eventually dies.
Now consider this definition of love by Jesuit priest, Fr. Anthony DeMello in his book Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality:
“What does it mean to love? It means to see a person, a situation, a thing as it really is, not as you imagine it to be. And to give it the response it deserves.”
“Seeing is the most arduous thing that a human can undertake, for it calls for a disciplined, alert mind. But most people would much rather lapse into mental laziness than take the trouble to see each person, each thing in its present moment of freshness.”
Instead of being a reaction to emotions and feelings, DeMello is suggesting that love instead is all about seeing and responding.
Why we struggle to see
DeMello says we don’t see because we’re often mentally lazy.
That’s certainly true for me. It’s a mental laziness born of the desire to have reality conform to my expectations, wishes, and desires. They lie below the surface, quietly influencing every thought, decision, and action.
Here are some examples of types of people who may fall outside of my love because of my expectations:
People who don’t share my worldview.
People who don’t initiate contact.
People who have betrayed me or hurt me in any way.
People who don’t respond immediately to my attempts to connect (phone calls, texts).
Drop your expectations
Is there a person in your life you have a hard time loving? Try this little experiment the next time you think of them or encounter them.
1. Create an intention to drop all your expectations about this person should think and behave.
2. Focus on seeing them as they are.
3. Engage and respond to that person as they are rather than the person you want them to be.
Then note what happens.
Did you find yourself able to engage in conversation without flying into a rage?
Were you able to accept their perspective as true for them?
Where you able to see this person as a human being rather than an object of scorn?
You may surprisingly find affection and admiration arising within you when you think of them.
You have finally seen them. You have finally experienced true love.